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Japan

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Facts & Figures

Emperor: Akihito (1989)

Prime Minister: Shinzo Abe (2012)

Land area: 140,728 sq mi (364,485 sq km); total area: 145,913 sq mi (377,915 sq km)

Population (2014 est.): 127,103,388 (growth rate: -0.13%); birth rate: 8.07/1000; infant mortality rate: 2.13/1000; life expectancy: 84.46

Capital and largest city (2009 est.): Tokyo, 37.217 million

Other large cities: Osaka-Kobe 11.494 million; Nagoya 3.328 million; Fukuoka-Kitakyushu 2.868 million; Sapporo 2.742 million; Sendai 2.428 million (2011)

Monetary unit: Yen

More Facts & Figures

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Index
  1. Japan Main Page
  2. Japan Expands Its Empire
  3. Japan Tests Its Military Might
  4. Economic Recovery Is Followed by Deep Recession
  5. Succession of Prime Ministers Meet Only Fleeting Popularity
  6. Scandals Taint Leadership
  7. Tsunami Devastates Japan and Causes Nuclear Disaster
  8. Tension Increases with Asian Neighbors Over Islands
  9. Noda Wins Party Leadership Vote, but Faces Strong Opposition
  10. Shinzo Abe Becomes Prime Minister Again in Late 2012
  11. Ongoing Fukushima Leak Declared an Emergency
  12. Japan Lifts Decades Old Arms Ban

Geography

An archipelago in the Pacific, Japan is separated from the east coast of Asia by the Sea of Japan. It is approximately the size of Montana. Japan's four main islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. The Ryukyu chain to the southwest was U.S.-occupied from 1945 to 1972, when it reverted to Japanese control, and the Kurils to the northeast are Russian-occupied.

Government

Constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government.

History

Legend attributes the creation of Japan to the sun goddess, from whom the emperors were descended. The first of them was Jimmu, supposed to have ascended the throne in 660 B.C. , a tradition that constituted official doctrine until 1945.

Recorded Japanese history begins in approximately A.D. 400, when the Yamato clan, eventually based in Kyoto, managed to gain control of other family groups in central and western Japan. Contact with Korea introduced Buddhism to Japan at about this time. Through the 700s Japan was much influenced by China, and the Yamato clan set up an imperial court similar to that of China. In the ensuing centuries, the authority of the imperial court was undermined as powerful gentry families vied for control.

At the same time, warrior clans were rising to prominence as a distinct class known as samurai. In 1192, the Minamoto clan set up a military government under their leader, Yoritomo. He was designated shogun (military dictator). For the following 700 years, shoguns from a succession of clans ruled in Japan, while the imperial court existed in relative obscurity.

First contact with the West came in about 1542, when a Portuguese ship off course arrived in Japanese waters. Portuguese traders, Jesuit missionaries, and Spanish, Dutch, and English traders followed. Suspicious of Christianity and of Portuguese support of a local Japanese revolt, the shoguns of the Tokugawa period (1603–1867) prohibited all trade with foreign countries; only a Dutch trading post at Nagasaki was permitted. Western attempts to renew trading relations failed until 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry sailed an American fleet into Tokyo Bay. Trade with the West was forced upon Japan under terms less than favorable to the Japanese. Strife caused by these actions brought down the feudal world of the shoguns. In 1868, the emperor Meiji came to the throne, and the shogun system was abolished.

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